“Puberty is a dramatic point of life where everything is in such flux and everything seems like the most important thing in the world.”
Netflix animated comedy Big Mouth‘sfirst season ends with 7th grader Andrew Glouberman (voiced by John Mulaney) lamenting his latest hormone-fueled humiliation: Being wrongfully implicated for murder after tossing socks filled with his, um, DNA into a dumpster.
“Look, I know this all seems embarrassing now, boys, but maybe one day you’ll look back on these times fondly and perhaps even make something beautiful about it?” Andrew’s Hormone Monster (voiced by Nick Kroll) says.
Andrew and his friend Nick (also voiced by Kroll) point out that it might be illegal to do a show about a bunch of kids masturbating.
“Holy shit, I hope not,” the Monster replies. “I mean, maybe if it’s animated we can get away with it….right?”
Season one of Big Mouth not only “got away with it,” it ended up being one of Netflix’s funniest, most outrageous, and weirdly sweetest shows. Big Mouth was created by lifelong friends Nick Kroll (comedian and star of The Kroll Show), and Andrew Goldberg (a writer on Family Guy), alongside co-creators Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett.
The show is loosely based on Kroll and Goldberg’s formative years growing up in Westchester County, New York, but mostly it’s about the universal wonders and terrors of puberty. Characters Andrew (based on Goldberg), Nick (voiced by Kroll and based on Kroll), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), and Missy (Jenny Slate) all try to navigate their changing bodies and brains while confronting their own respective hormone monsters – literal and figurative.
“We still have a whole whiteboard with different topics about puberty that we want to get to,” Goldberg says. “Puberty is a dramatic point of life where everything is in such flux and everything seems like the most important thing in the world.”
“Right at the end of season one, I wrote up on a whiteboard that the Hormone Monster needed a mortal enemy,” Goldberg says. “I wrote ‘Shame Monster’ and Nick was like ‘No, shame is like more of a wizard. It’s more insidious and mysterious than a monster.’”
The Shame Wizard is a pale, treacherous beast voiced by accomplished English actor David Thewlis (Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter films and V.M. Varga from the most recent season of Fargo).
“We were watching Fargo Season 3 when we started writing our season 2,” Kroll says. “(Thewlis’) performance on Fargo is one of the greatest villainous performances I’ve ever seen. It was great inspiration for writing the Shame Wizard. We said to ourselves ‘We’ll ask him to do it because we wrote it for him and then it was a real joy when he said yes.’”
Another, less ghastly introduction for season two is a new student for Nick, Andrew, and company to interact with, named Gina (voiced by Gina Rodriguez). Gina is a soccer player on Missy and Jessi’s team and potential love interest for Nick.
Gina also opens up a new plot line for the show to tackle yet another aspect of puberty’s many confusing indignities: What’s it like to be the first girl in your class to develop boobs? South Park’s answer to this particular question in “Bebe’s Boobs Destroy Society” involved the complete dissolution of order. Big Mouth’s is more tweenage girl-centric and believably bittersweet.
“Believably bittersweet” can describe much of Big Mouth. The awkwardness, discomfort, and even occasional excitement of adolescence is a shared experience. Some specific remnants Kroll and Goldberg’s own childhoods make their way into season two.
“In the first episode, Andrew gets his lip waxed by his mother and that happened to me. To this day she feels so bad about it. It eventually worked too well. For years I could grow a full beard except for a few patches on my lip. Nick liked to call it a reverse Hitler,” Goldberg says.
Kroll has his own unfortunate childhood experience that became fodder for season two.
“Yes, I’ve talked about it publicly as I emotionally deal with it still. I got pantsed at a party and was exposed to my crush at an age when I had not hit puberty yet and felt really insecure about it,” he says.
The writers combined Kroll’s story with another youthful urban legend. Writer Max Silvestri heard about a kid being pantsed on a zip line, creating an atom bomb of adolescent embarrassment.
Childhood can be traumatic but thankfully it doesn’t last forever. Goldberg says the writers plan to graduate the characters from seventh grade after the show’s third season. That invites the possibility that Big Mouth can see these precocious kids through their high school years, though Goldberg adds they haven’t thought that far ahead.
Regardless, youth has its joys, even if its under siege from the Hormone Monster and Shame Wizard. “I’m learning to love Nick,” Kroll says. “I’m learning to love that bad little boy inside of me. In a slightly glib, slightly true way. Which is what the show is about in a lot of ways. It’s about trying to love that 13-year-old kid.”